Iran Update, August 1, 2023
Iran Update, August 1, 2023
Annika Ganzeveld, Amin Soltani, and Andie Parry
The Iran Update aims to inform national security policy by providing timely, relevant, and independent open-source analysis of developments pertaining to Iran and its Axis of Resistance. This update covers political, military, and economic events and trends that affect the stability and decision-making of the Iranian regime. It also provides insights into Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities abroad that undermine regional stability and threaten US forces and interests. The Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) provides these updates Monday through Friday. To receive Iran Updates via email, please subscribe here.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) with support from the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute launched a new interactive map of Iran and the Middle East. The map depicts events in Iran that affect the stability of the Iranian regime, namely anti-regime protests and reported poisoning incidents. It also shows developments in Syria that jeopardize regional stability and pose threats to US forces and interests, including Iranian and Iranian-backed militia positions.
1) Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Shin Bet announced it thwarted the smuggling of “anomalous” weapons from northern Jordan into Israel during the early morning of July 25, a day after judicial reform prompted significant unrest in Israel.
2) Iranian state media and officials are falsely claiming that the United States has resumed its campaign to destabilize Syria by sponsoring terrorist groups. The claims are consistent with recent Russo-Iranian information operations to support their coercive campaign to expel US forces from Syria.
3) Iran is pursuing the construction of drone factories in Belarus and Russia, which will help Russia acquire Iranian drones more readily and provide Iran with numerous economic and military benefits.
Iranian Activities in the Levant
This section covers Iranian efforts to consolidate and expand Tehran’s economic, military, and political influence throughout the Levant especially in Syria. This section examines some of the many campaigns that Iran is pursuing to achieve this strategic objective. CTP will update and refine our assessments of these campaigns over time and in future updates.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Shin Bet announced it thwarted the smuggling of “anomalous” weapons from northern Jordan into Israel during the early morning of July 25, a day after judicial reform prompted significant unrest in Israel. The specified weapons were destined for groups in the West Bank. Israel issued a gag order to prevent Israeli media from publishing additional details. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced a day after the weapons seizure became public that Israel would build a wall on the northern Jordan border to interdict weapons smuggling as Iran intensifies its efforts to arm Palestinian groups and gather intelligence.
Iran and Axis of Resistance groups have paid close attention to protests in Israel, suggesting that they aim to exploit the unrest stemming from the judicial reform outcome. Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force and Hamas leadership held a meeting in mid-July to strategize capitalizing on Israeli unrest, ultimately deciding against direct interference, according to Reuters. The smuggling of ”anomalous“ weapons into northern Israel during is consistent with CTP‘s previous hypothesis that Iran could capitalize on unrest to re-arm militants in the West Bank. The Jenin branch of Hamas announced it built and deployed explosively formed penetrators against IDF soldiers in early July, demonstrating that Palestinian groups are developing military capabilities. Iranian leaders have stressed the importance of cultivating an armed resistance in the West Bank. Iran has the option to use the new military capacity to direct future actions against Israel.
Iranian Domestic and Political Affairs
This section covers factors and trends affecting regime decision-making and stability. CTP will cover domestic politics, significant protest activity, and related issues here.
Iranian state media and officials are falsely claiming that the United States has resumed its campaign to destabilize Syria by sponsoring terrorist groups. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Rear Admiral Ali Akbar Ahmadian stated that the July 27 ISIS attack in Damascus demonstrated that the United States is reviving terrorist organizations in Syria to undermine the country’s political stability and security during a meeting with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad in Tehran on August 1. Ahmadian further claimed that the United States has resumed this effort because it failed to achieve its objectives during the Syrian civil war. Mekdad also emphasized that the United States seeks to revive terrorist cells to destabilize Syria. State-owned Al Alam similarly claimed on August 1 that the American military presence in Syria is destabilizing the country and that the recent ISIS attack in Damascus was part of “a US-created scenario.”
The above claims are consistent with recent Russo-Iranian information operations to support their coercive campaign to expel US forces from Syria. Iran and Russia amplified rumors of International Coalition attacks into Syrian regime territory throughout July, as CTP previously reported. Iranian-backed militias have similarly framed the US-led international coalition as an imminent security threat to Syrians, as CTP previously reported. Russia accused the United States of preparing false flag chemical weapons attacks against Syria on July 3. Iranian-backed militias and Syrian regime forces also reinforced their positions in Deir ez Zor and the Syrian desert near the Al Tanf Deconfliction Zone close to US deployments throughout July, as CTP previously reported. A US senior defense official stated on July 14 that Iran, Russia, and Syria are cooperating to pressure the US to withdraw forces from Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated on July 30 that Russia is not seeking a confrontation with the United States in Syria but is prepared for “any scenario” after several weeks of Russian violations of US airspace and aggressive maneuvers endangering US aircraft in Syria.
Iran is pursuing the construction of drone factories in Belarus and Russia, which will help Russia acquire Iranian drones more readily and provide Iran with numerous economic and military benefits. Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri called for greater defense industry cooperation between Iran and Belarus during a meeting with Belarusian Defense Minister Lieutenant General Viktor Khrenin in Tehran on August 1. Iranian Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani signed a military cooperation agreement with Khrenin on July 31. CTP assessed that Ashtiani and Khrenin may have discussed establishing Shahed kamikaze drone factories in Belarus to support the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine claimed in May 2023 that Iranian engineers are exploring how to convert factories in Gomel, Belarus into drone production facilities. The Biden administration revealed in June that Iran is helping Russia build a drone manufacturing factory in Yelabuga, Tatarstan, Russia. Iran opened an Ababil-2 drone factory in Dushanbe, Tajikistan in May 2022. Bagheri notably attended the opening ceremony of this factory. The production of Iranian drones in Belarus and Russia will benefit both Russia and Iran:
- Russia will benefit by acquiring Iranian drones for its invasion of Ukraine more readily. Israeli and Ukrainian media have noted that the construction of an Iranian drone factory in Belarus would alleviate the “logistical problems” Russia faces in transporting Iranian drones from Iran to Russia via the Middle East. The Biden administration published a map in June showing Iranian drone transfers from Iran to Russia through the Caspian Sea.
- Iran will benefit by receiving revenue for the Iranian economy. The British Secret Intelligence Service revealed in July that Iran seeks to acquire cash from Russia in return for Iranian drones. Iran is currently facing critical economic conditions, with the value of the rial surpassing 500,000 rials to one US dollar on August 1. The Iran Statistical Center reported on July 25 that Iran’s inflation rate is approximately 47.5 percent.
- Russia can also benefit Iran militarily. Western media speculated in late 2022 that Iran might receive Russian Su-35 fighter jets in return for supplying Russia with drones. Iranian military officials have increasingly expressed skepticism at receiving Su-35s in recent months, however. Western media reported in March that Russia provided Iran with advanced surveillance software and cyber weapons in exchange for drones. A high-ranking Israeli military official separately expressed concern in June that Russia is providing Iran with Western weapons captured in Ukraine.
Iran’s close cooperation with Belarus and Russia may stem, in part, because Iran has signed long-term strategic agreements with these countries. The graphic below depicts which countries Iran has signed or is pursuing cooperation agreements with.
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